10 characters in search of an exit

Photo of a sharpened pencil, next to pencil shavings and small, gray pencil sharpener

I offer this list as writing prompts to help you tackle your current round of writer’s block.

The name is based on the Twilight Zone episode, Five Characters in Search of an Exit, and centers on personal observations I made of these folks while people-watching in the park one day.

The assumptions of gender, race, or creed are offered in peace, and substitutions are welcomed and encouraged.


  1. Take a character from a bullet point, set a five-minute timer, and WRITE.
  2. Let these characters be the stars of a short story, a poem, or a character profile. Feel free to scoop a handful and integrate them into a current work-in-progress. Make them your own.
  3. Allow your mind and pen or typing to wander. See what comes out of it. No judgment. No editing. Encourage your creativity to flow.
  4. I’d love to see what came out of this exercise for you, so shoot me a message. I love connecting with people who find joy in writing as much as I do.

Good luck!

Writing prompts

1. He was a male adolescent. His greasy, dirty blonde hair was tucked underneath a black knit cap with an indistinguishable logo across the front. The skateboard was tucked between his scrawny chicken legs. He wore a war-torn drawstring bag with the Adidas logo across his sweaty, muscled back. Dirt was under his fingernails, and he looked like a nervous cat.

2. He was an older male with black and white hair, possibly Jewish. He wore an ill-fitting gray suit that may have fit his thin frame properly at one time. His Oxfords were polished, but no elbow grease could remove the scuff marks. He gave off the distinct aroma of peppermint and pipe tobacco. There was a plain plastic bag in his hands. His gait was determined, though slower than the crowd.

3. She had long black hair and pale white skin. Black Ray-Bans disguised her eyes. Her face had no wrinkles, and her nails were impeccable, though unpainted. She wore a zipped-up yellow hoodie and deconstructed denim jeans. Her purple Jansport backpack was decorated with buttons and safety pins. She smelled of cigarette smoke and Chanel No 5.

4. His slicked-back black hair was shiny in direct sunlight. He was Indian, and thin wire glasses framed his bushy eyebrows. He wore a gray fleece pullover sweater, and a black backpack bounced against his broad back. His jeans looked lived in and could probably tell a thousand stories. His tennis shoes looked like they had been put through the wringer. He had a friendly smile.

5. The French woman was joined by her boyfriend. They held hands and discussed their dinner plans for that night in their native language. They looked strikingly similar: light brown hair, bold blue eyes, and ready smiles. Her hair and makeup were perfect. The red scarf around her throat accented the black and white blouse and skirt. Her heels were brand-new. His scruffy beard aged him but in a good way. His crisp denim shirt covered his plain white T-shirt. His khaki pants were pressed perfectly.

6. She was Asian, probably Filipino, because of her dark skin. She was short, barely hitting 5 feet. Her dyed brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, accentuating the severity of her features, disguised by the generous amount of makeup she wore. She spoke quietly but furiously on her iPhone, waving her hands at indiscriminate moments during her conversation. Her Michael Kors bag – this season – bounced jauntily on her arm as she walked. Her navy blue pumps made the floor vibrate.

7. She was a young child in elementary school, clutching her mother’s hand. They were opposites in terms of looks. The child wore her curly brown hair in pigtails and had large, expressive green eyes set against light skin; her mother had her straight blonde hair pulled back in a bun with brown eyes and dark skin, probably suntanned. But their facial expressions were mirror images of each other. They were kind. The girl whispered something to her mother, who chuckled and whispered something back, making her laugh.

8. He was not alone, and he made sure everyone knew. His generic body spray was mixed with the rest of his friends indiscriminately. His blonde hair was short and spiky. His brown eyes glared back at anyone who dared look at his gang. They were dressed similarly: basketball jerseys and long gym shorts. He drank Coke from a plastic bottle. When it was empty, he looked around for the nearest trash can 10 feet away. Faking a spin move, he hooked the bottle toward the can and missed spectacularly. His friends quickly hassled him for his poor b-boy skills. He abandoned the bottle on the floor, disavowing its existence.

9. She wore a crown of blue plastic flowers in her hair. She was natural ginger, which she wore long and straight. She had a long-sleeved blue blouse, black pants, and open-toed sandals. Her medium-height Rubenesque figure was loaded with her plain brown hobo bag and 4 reusable bags of indiscriminate shapes and sizes. She walked purposefully and made no eye contact with anyone. The smell of strawberries lingered in her wake.

10. His hands were buried in the front pockets of his college sweater. The white logo of his alma mater was emblazoned across the front and contrasted nicely with the cotton material dyed blue. Glasses framed his inquisitive blue eyes, highlighting his jawline and cleft chin. He was skinny and pale. He looked younger than he should be, barely beginning college, not having graduated. He looked squirrelly and nervous, probably his first day in the real world. His shoes were brand-new Air Jordans, most likely a gift from his mother, who stood beside him with a tight-lipped look on her wrinkled face.

Ready to improve your literary citizenship?


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